This page includes feedback I've received about Active Learning and on the different activities. Hopefully this will help you if you are going to use any of the activities listed on the left.
If you have any adaptations or ideas or advice on using any of the activities on the site please get in touch, using the [ contact form ] and I'll add your contributions here.
And each section has a link back to the relevant activity.
1. Individualized learning, digital cameras and students' sense of success
From Hanna Crothers in Norfolk:
In the new OCR med book... when looking at the change and continuities between greek and roman medicine... you suggest the students draw a washing line in their books. Well, i turned this into an active lesson with pegs and string getting the students to look for evidence in groups. That worked very well.
Another thing I did which worked amazingly well was the ancient medicine review human timeline (on thinking history). The students loved it! One thing I have always found difficult with active lessons is consolidation and providing evidence of learning. However, with this activity I used the handy digital camera. The 12 statements which related to the time periods and the factors... i wrote on big pieces of card. Then when the overall timeline was constructed (including pictures) I took individual pictures of each student holding up their particular card. I have now put all their pics together on to one big timeline. They have this now stuck into their books as evidence and they also LOVE the fact that they don't just have any timeline in their books.... but their own class timeline. Another example of the personalised learning. The great thing is, is that having these pictures meant i could also put them into a movie maker and show my students their timeline to music to represent each particular period. If I had time I would have asked my students to create their own timeline on moviemaker themselves.
2. Why bother with active learning?
After running a KS3 course in South Shields in October, I received this email from Leanne Whitaker:
Your session on Friday made me re think what I am wanting to achieve in my teaching and I have tried out your activities already! I did the picture activity and reenactment (like you did with Battle of Hastings) and my Year 11s were as excited as little kids again. The picture kept them guessing for ages until they had solved the mystery and it really did keep them hooked.
What Leanne's email made me think about is a possible advantage of active learning that i hadn't been explicit about before - that somehow the different style of learning and teaching and the teacher's sense of experimentation and trying something different allows him or her to communicate their enthusiasm to the students to a greater extent than is often possible. Does the freedom of movement and the changes in classroom structure somehow release a bit of a teacher's hidden enthusiasm that's harder to communicate when everyone's in their normal places with books in front of them? Instinctively that seems right - not that we can't be enthusiastic in ordinary circumstances (we are all the time) but that doing something different or challenging lifts us too. I suspect Leanne's Y11 class were not just excited by the activity but by something about the way she talked and communicated about the lesson, by her excitement about trying something different with Y11. So maybe all this moving classroom furniture and finding props etc isn't just good for the students but is good for teachers too, providing stimulation and a different kind of chance to show that enthusiasm that made us study history in the first place?
From Mick Cutler
I did Boudicca's rebellion with three year seven groups last week and the week before. I videoed the final one just to give myself an idea of how it went. The classes all seem to have got hold of the chain of events and also the possible decision making process that went into those events. A few points:
I started by explaining Prasutagus' death as all but one class came to this activity cold. That helped anger the Iceni.
I finished with a walk through of the battle using chairs to represent the woods and the 'narrow' entrance to the clearing. This really helped pupils appreciate the tactical significance of Paulinus' battlefield choice. I also used chairs behind the Iceni to represent the wagons and had everyone who had died during the activity come back to life as Iceni wives and children. There was no physical contact during the battle, it wasn't 'best avoided' as Ian claimed on the notes…!
I felt that I talked too much. If I had time I would have given each pupil a briefing sheet on the back of the A4 card that I gave out with their character name on it. This would help them think about their character and perhaps come up with more ideas themselves. It would also mean I would have to do less explaining and therefore less talking. For an active lesson, it was also rather didactic.
Despite that, all the pupils really enjoyed it, and a fair amount of knowledge 'went in'. They also now know that history isn't boring. In fact, I have had other pupils higher up the school moaning that they 'didn't get to do that when they were in Year 7'. Super.
Oh yes, and the follow up activity asking them to write down what they would want people to remember about the battle in future years from their point of view also went down well. 'You mean it would be biased Sir?' Ta Daa!
This from a teacher in Stoke, also about Boudicca – more evidence that activities don't just help students.
I did a lesson this morning for an observation on the revolt by Boudicca. It was with a very enthusiastic and somewhat talkative class. It took some time in terms of settling them and getting them to come to grips with the fact that we were outside the restraints of a classroom. They all grasped the main points of the story and I found that it ticked all sorts of boxes with regards to thinking skills, speaking and listening as well as historical skills. I have been teaching for twelve years and the last decade in particular, I became far more conservative in the teaching and learning that took place. Throwing the shackles off and doing things in a different way has not only given the students greater enjoyment (They all said they preferred it) but also has given me renewed enthusiasm for the job, so thank you to all who provided resources and advice on how to approach the lesson.
From Dan Lyndon
Ok so I forgot the hairdryer!!!!!! Never mind I managed to get a big electric fan and that did the trick.
Despite the fact that this was pretty hard work on the voicebox and took the whole lesson to complete (leaving only a pitiful 5 minutes for a debrief) the activity about the invasions of 1066 was a great success. The boys really got stuck in (too much if the truth be told) and there was a very wide level of participation. The verbal responses showed a good level of empathy, understanding and critical thinking. They showed an amazing amount of recall at the end which I am absolutely confident will last. I shall be following up with a chronological card sort as suggested to reinforce.
From Jody Dunn in Cornwall
I just wanted to say thank you for Friday's inset at Newquay and tell you how much I enjoyed it.
I went back to school and made a human essay with Year 7 on Why William won the Battle of Hastings. They loved it but the best thing was that I had Year 7s making links between the reasons and coming to conclusions about their importance that I wish some of my Y11s could do and I'm certain it was because of using that method. So it's Y11s next!
From Lindsey Hughes in Solihull
I recently did 'Je Suis le Roi' with my Year 7s, using a talented Year 12 French and History student as King William, and it worked a treat. It was wonderful to hear serious discussions among the deposed Saxon earls about the fact that they still felt like earls but could not act that way, plus the humiliation of being made to work for the Normans. We keep referring back to the role play as we look in more detail at the ways the Normans consolidated control which has made it even more effective.
From Dan Lyndon in London
Just done 'Je suis le roi' for the second year now and thoroughly enjoyed it once I had overcome the annoyance of having to tell certain brats to shut up every five minutes. They really do stop the flow! The responses from the boys during the debrief was so insightful that it really made the whole thing worth while. I could hardly have scripted it better myself. Marvelous stuff. Mind you I have had to accept temporary defeat with my other yr 7 class who will not be doing the same activity. I can't even manage to start the lesson for 25 minutes!
From Sue Korman in Sussex
We loved 'Je suis le roi'. Several Year 7's said they would ˜never recover” from the mutilation of the teddies & have taken them home for hospitalisation.
We added giving chocolate largesse to the Normans, as well as to those Saxon landowners who finally acquiesced to William’s authority.
From Jane Cowie in Derbyshire
I saw Je suis Le Roi done at the SHP conference a couple of years ago and have done it ever since, It works superbly, though I had a student teacher cut off the teddy's ear last year and he did it with so little dramatic effect the kids took no notice, you have really got to play up to the crowd.
This year I am teaching the same class Thinking Skills and History. Part of Thinking Skills is circle time where they can only talk if they are holding the teddy. The kids are therefore very attached to teddy already, when I chop his ear off in January I'm expecting tears.
From Nichola Boughey
Wow did the Je suis le Roi exercise today! OK had to take 30 mins from lunch to set up room, and prep last night, with a little help from sixth form. OK then had to apologise to Sixth Form lesson next door for the amount of fun and noise being had in our room! But wow - they acted stern with each other, forced Saxons to build castles out of lego and even pretended to be dead when I swept their 'livestock' off the table.
At the end of it they really understood how firm William was and really hated him!
Success - bit whacked now!
PLUS - Could not bring myself to cut the ear off my stuffed toy!
From Jo Dawson (no relation) who tackled je suis le roi while a PGCE trainee
Thought I would just drop you a line to let you know how I got on with my class the other week. I was doing it with an all girls, fairly low level year 7 class, who, it must be said, are rather boisterous. It was also the first time I had actually taught them.
Unsurprisingly they loved it! They were really engaged throughout the whole lesson (some holding the swords I had made a little too much so!) They also responded well in the questioning session that I did with them afterwards. The highlight though, as you suggested, was the chopping off of Winnie the Pooh’s ear. The looks on their faces were priceless!
Things I learnt from the role play
- Choose who you give the swords to carefully!
- Tell them that they need to follow the events so that they can answer the questions I will ask them later
- Get them sitting down on the floor when doing the questions. Too many were lolling all over the tables
- I can still remember some French! And it scared them to see me bellowing at them in French! (Perhaps I should try it more often when they are being too noisy!)
- I made some cardboard castles that they could just slot together to construct. This helped them remember where these were built.
- The use of bibs was excellent as it helped them to see clearly how the tide changed and how the Normans took over
- Getting them to write a paragraph for homework on what they had learnt and how they learnt it was very useful as it enabled me to see whether they had understood the purpose of the lesson.
My mentor was really impressed and has said that she will get the whole department to do the lesson next year as it was a really good way of getting across the impact that the Normans had.
From Stuart Roper
I worked with a trainee from Bath Spa and created a piece of work centred around an English housecarl who returns home after Hastings to live his life under Norman rule.
We used the continuity/change lesson as the focus for our last chapter (we were writing a story based on true events) in a piece of writing about his life. It was really useful to put the lesson into a context. We ended up having our character, Bardolf the Axe Lover, discussing change/continuity in an inn after news had reached their village that William had died.
Here, we used many of the statements you provided.
It worked fantastically well through having Bardolf commenting what had happened to him, whilst the students could relate this to other groups of people in the village and change where the card may go for that particular person.
From Dom Giles
Just thought you might like to know I've done the King John exercise and it was really good. They were focussed, excited and loved finding out that by and large they did better than John!
From Lesley Ann Buxton
I've just done ‘King John – the decision-making game’ Fantastic…my lower/middle ability class loved it. The children had NO prior knowledge from lessons on King John.
I divided the class into eight groups of three. They had group names: Magna Carta, Angevin Empire, Duke of Brittany, English peasants, French peasants, King of France, Rome and King John.
Certain students had tabards on…Arthur, King John, King of France, Pope, Stephen Langton, English Barons, Brittany, Anjou, Poitou, French Barons.
I gave each group a map of the Angevin Empire on card
I also got a copy of a family Tree…adding Geoffrey's children…Eleanor, Maud and Arthur. [ See the family tree on the Royal Government’s site on PDF ]
I got the children to do a word map about the qualities of Kings and Nobles…I gave each group 10 crowns on cards and using bluetak stuck the crowns under the team names of the board.
I got an image of a crown from the internet and placed them on card. I like the red crown…it photocopied on card well…6 crowns per card.
The questions were placed on PowerPoint…grouped 1 to 4, then answers, then remove crowns from board, 5 to 8, then answers, remove crowns from board…then 9 to 12, answers, remove crowns.
We then did the debrief on problems John faced? how the decisions caused more problems? his relationships with the barons, the qualities John possessed as a King and the qualities expected of a Medieval Monarch…and what they had learned? Homework: was to write an article about King John. All the children where eager to find out more about King John.
We all enjoyed the lesson…
From Heidi Sutcliffe
I carried out the Black Death activity that you used in the session on Wednesday. it worked really well and the students responded really well. it also really highlighted the ability of some pupils to place themselves on the continuum and justify their choice with examples, reason and comparison, whist other pupils found that really hard. This is what I think I'm going to focus on developing especially in that class and I'm sure this will impact on their levels (or sub levels! although don't get me started on what nonsense that is) their quality of writing and their ability to cope with the complex challenges they will be facing throughout key stage 3 and hopefully key stage 4
From Steve Jolly in Rochdale
I am currently adapting the 1381 Rebellion activity for use with my Year 7. Basically I have put into a powerpoint format so that students have a big screen access to some resources. Moreover, I have produced role cards in colour. My colleague Matt was observing the activity and he noted how the youngsters were engaged. The stage where youngsters were in the role of freemen, villeins and Lords got them going. My nobles were keen on being tough with all and the freemen sensed an opportunity.
A lovely moment arose when one of my Lords wanted to justify the Poll Tax to the peasants. None would listen to him. He was shouted down. The rebels were clearly up for rebelling and some of my Lords remained determined to show who was in charge. The activity was superb for encouraging discussion. I had one child whose learning style clearly enabled her to access History. Involved and active ~ most unusual for the girl concerned.
My school is currently engaged in developing active learning across the school. Scientists and others seem excited by the Development yet we History teachers have been teaching in this meaningful for some time. A case of History teaching being at the cutting edge of curriculum development.
From Sue Korman
I wanted to let you know my students greatly enjoyed the Dissolution of the Monasteries activity. We made some extra role cards and chalked out the monastery in the playground (adding the Inn, Kimbolton and Yorkshire - for Robert Aske).There was much debate about it at break too with students showing friends in other classes the role they had and where they had stood.
From Mick Cutler
The dissolution lesson worked well but have a few ideas for a variation that are germinating. It is along the lines of getting the characters to spend time mixing in role and finding out about each other, perhaps with a record sheet to record very brief details of how they are linked to the monastery. Perhaps giving certain characters people they have to find who can give them 'missing' information from their role card. E.g. the Lord knows he has a problem with his daughter, but doesn't yet know what to do. When he talks to the Abbot, the Abbot's brief will say to tell the Lord he will arrange for his daughter to go to the Nunnery - that sort of thing.
The reason for this type of approach is that it took me a whole lesson to read through the cards and although the class did it well, there was a lot of sitting around as each person only had a 1 or 2 minute contribution to the lesson.
I am about to fashion a de-brief worksheet. It will enable the characters to record feelings about the monastery, the closure and fears for the future, as well as any questions they want answering.
When I announced the closure they were all pretty shocked - there was an audible "oh no!" from many! They all indignantly wanted to know why and as I said all would be revealed next week they said it was like a TV series cliffhanger. I think it did the trick!
From Louise Pigott
Rather than go round each student asking them questions, I did as Mick suggested, allowing pupils to go round and meet each other, filling in a feedback sheet where they had to identify different people, why the monastery was important to them and whether this was positive or negative for the community. This worked really well.
I added a few slightly dodgy monks and had some inspectors who were told to collect only negative information. One did this particularly brilliantly, relishing his role. I really enjoyed watching his interviews: the Prior: well I am an important wealthy person and...' Inspector: 'ahh, so you're corrupt, you are wealthy because you steal from the monastery.'
This really helped pupils not only to engage with the plight of the monks but also how information against the monasteries was collected and so to consider why sources may sometimes be unreliable. Feedback at the end focused on positives and negatives about the monastery and I was extremely impressed by the quality of feedback.
From Kirsty Donaldson in Cambridgeshire
it was brilliant and SO much fun - the sight of year 8 pupils wiggling their fingers above their heads to be fireships was truly magical!!! They learnt lots and lots from the activity and had a complex understanding of the reasons for the Armada's failure - thankyou!!
From Carl Bennett in Fleetwood
I tried your Armada lesson with my top set year 8 and I found it generally went well. I did it on the school field and the pupils really enjoyed it and I hope they got a lot from it. It certainly made a change from the standard 'chalk and talk' lesson. I used party poppers to simulate cannon fire. The English ships got 4 poppers + reloads after going back to Plymouth, the Spanish got but one. The English could fire at 10 feet, the Spanish 5. This helped to cement the idea of gunnery. I made big labels the kids put round their necks to show who they were ie Elizabeth at Tilbury, Medina Sidonia and of course pictures of galleons (lifted from the old orange Aylett text book.) The kids were dead excited and I'm glad I did it, thanks for the advice. I work in a real school with tough kids and this was all a bit outside my comfort zone but I'd do it again. If this simulation can work here it can be done anywhere.
From Emma Boustead who’s taken an activity created for A level and adapted it for use with Y8.
I used the Civil War role-play in a simplified version with a top set year 8 group.
To help the characters work out their relationship to one another and their position in the community we created a 'web' using their character cards.
After the simulation we looked again at the relationships to see how the civil war arriving had broken apart the community and used it to identify where conflicts had been resolved and how new ones had developed.
Each character had money depending on their position, they really thought hard before they decided which side to support!
From Jo Philpott
I thought I would let you know that I used the Smuggling role play last term with two very different groups in year 10 and 11.
Year 10 are a very bright and active group and love their history. They responded fantastically to the task and became very corrupt and devious in their actions. The tea drinkers were the only characters the customs officers were brave enough to arrest and the smugglers were delighted by their gains though split into two groups early in the task as some were unprepared to use the hawkers. This was their first introduction to smuggling and we followed it up with a source based activity about public attitudes to smuggling. Their questioning and contextual grasp of the topic was superb.
Year 11 used the role play as a revision activity and had to think really hard about their reactions and responses to questions and events. I think I worked harder than them to begin with but interestingly they were able to put smuggling in context and use a lot of ideas from across the unit to help their thinking, (perfect revision). The London shop keepers and tea drinkers took a lot of motivating and probably were least interested by the task. Next time I may introduce some 'gossip' of what is happening at the coast to keep them more involved. Similarly I may ask the PM and an opposition MP to respond to events on a more frequent basis to show the political agenda more. The majority really enjoyed the lesson and the follow up work was very personal and in places very passionate.
From Lesley Ann Buxton
Year 8 thoroughly enjoyed this activity. I set the lesson as families and tried to recruit them to the Chartist Movement. The students came up with lots of questions to ask about the Chartists…who they were etc…We wrote over 30 questions on the board…I then asked the students to choose 10 questions, narrowing it down to their top 3 questions they needed answered.
I then told them about the Chartist Movement. I also managed a local history link with a catchment area village that had a Chartist Riot in C19th. We then made banners…and marched out of the classroom, into the yard shouting our demands carrying petitions and banners.
I then gathered the students on the outside benches and told them they had failed…they were upset…but continued to chant they wanted the vote all the way back to the classroom…we got some strange looks from staff and students. The students are now all fired up to find out more about the Chartist Movement. Thank you for making a normally dull topic exciting
From Ed Waller
Have just done Dan L' s Germany Timeline with a Yr 11 group I inherited this year. They had been all over the place when it came to putting things in order, and even remembering what the items (Ruhr Crisis, Locarno) were on about. This much seems a lot more together (I'm happy to say). The reason I'm writing is to recommend the cards as flash cards to be used as a starter. You pick one at the start of each lesson and discuss it in the terms Dan recommends. It would then be possible the repeat the exercise and (hopefully!) show the students how much their recall of these events and the significance of them has improved since the first attempt.
From Leanne Whittaker on Tyneside. This is the sort of feedback I really enjoy - not just using an activity but developing and improving it.
I used the Germany Living Graph but adapted it as I wanted to focus on rise of Hitler and Chacellor to Dictator specifically therefore I added more cards on these e.g enlargement of SA, Nazi votes grow to 230 etc. I also had some of the pupil wearing factor cards and they had some on paper on tabards-e.g Nazi Tactics, Weaknesses of Weimar etc and they had to take their factor sheets to the relevant events eg enlargement SA= Nazi Tactics. They then used a ball of coloured wool to 'tie up' similar factors which showed a rise and fall of some of these- i.e a lot of Nazi tactics deployed prior to 1929 yet ineffective until depression. I did this instead of colour coding the sheets as I wanted pupils to identify the factors themselves. It also created debate i.e was Hitler being handed the position of Chancellor due to his own tactics or inability of Weimar. I also asked pupils to identify differences and similarities between his rise to Chancellor and Chancellor to Dictator as they can get these muddled up during an exam. I have now done the Weimar Living Graph and this and pupils say it really helps them with writing essays and also stimulates debate about factors which makes them memorable.
Holy Box and Altar Table
From Jennifer Slack
I've recently completed a lesson using the Holy Box and the Altar task and I created some additional resources which may be of use to others. Following on from Maggie Wilson's suggestion of having various members of the class as various types of Christians, I compiled some role cards to help them understand what was important to their character. The role cards also include soldiers and a priest. I also made some 'letters' which could be delivered to the priest outlining the religious changes each monarch would be making, the idea being that the priest could read this to the class before taking the props away. I was using this activity as a way of looking at the consequences of the Break with Rome on ordinary people, so we hadn't covered Mary, Edward or Elizabeth yet, so I thought the above mentioned resources would aid my pupils. They are not groundbreaking but I have attached them to this email in case you feel they may be of use to others. In addition, each time the monarch changed I would play a different composition by Thomas Tallis and discuss what it could tell us, ie. were the lyrics in Latin etc. I just thought this added another dimension and also provided some cross-curricular links!
Who has the answer to the problem?
The story of the Industrial Revolution
From Rachel Jones
I first used the activity about a week after you presented it at the conference, and simply went through the script you sent and changed a few things (I took out all the stuff about applauding Brunel's hat and things like that). Then, went on the internet and found a load of images to laminate instead of using actual props
Then, it was a case of literally cutting the scripts into individual parts to hand to the pupils when it was their turn.
For the start, I used the mini cereal boxes and one big box to represent the lord of the manor (see Why was the harvest so important). It was very much how you did it if I remember rightly!
Then, onto the main activity, the main thing that went "wrong" with the first go was that I didn't trust the pupils to bring back their pieces of paper/scripts if I gave them to them to take home and learn and so what happened was that as each one came up to the front, they saw their script for the first time and weren't sure how to say or pronounce something. I can't remember, but I might not even have told they who they were going to be, so they might not even have had chance to do any independent research on their character. It was a bit messy.
The second time I did it (a couple of months ago), we had a brief introductory lesson on it (doing the cereal box / population part - see Why was the harvest so important). I then put their names on the board with a particular character's name next to them. The historical characters weren't in order, but they could see the names. They were then told that their character would link in with one of the others somehow and would follow on from and lead onto another one. As all pupils now have email addresses, I then emailed them their individual scripts so that they could read them in advance and know what was coming. At the same time, I had the scripts laminated and stuck onto the back of the appropriate image so the pupil would hold up their picture, and read off the back. Pupils were told that they had an email from me and they had to check it and let me know if there were any problems.
On the day, Robert Bakewell started off and then it was up to the pupils to work out if they were next or not (and why!). I did the narrator part to help try to link them together, but the major thing was that as we went along, each person could say why they followed on from the person before and how they linked into the next person. There was quite a lot of overlap of reasons, but the message stuck. After every 5 pupils or so we would stop and review from Robert Bakewell and push the links before carrying on with the next batch.
We only have 35 minute lessons so this had to take place over a few sessions, but it clearly stuck as for the next few weeks, there were loads of references to all the different characters in their written work which would never have been there before.
I now have a little "Fat Sheep..." file in the cupboard with the whole lot in there. Laminates, scripts etc. The PowerPoint is saved on the network and ready to go. It's a really good 2/3 week project for them and I doubt I'll ever get bored of seeing a pupil jump up and shout "that's me!" when they see a picture of a turnip.
See also the discussion on ‘What would we like students to remember about the Industrial Revolution?’ [ on this website here ].